What makes someone a hero? Is it a person risking her life for someone else? Is it a person putting the greater good ahead of his own good? Is it helping others? There are as many definitions of hero as there are people on the earth. While there may be many definitions of “hero,” one definition stands out to me.
My definition of a hero is someone who inspires me to better myself. There are not many people who do that but are a few. The one I’m writing about here is not considered by many to be very talented. I have heard people say he is, at best, a mediocre actor and, at worst, a terrible one but I have cried as he acted the part of broken hearted husband. I have read interviews in which directors he chose not to work with have accused him of being egotistical and his response was, “If my ego is healthy enough to say, ‘I’m not going to do a . . . rehash of the same film just because you want me to do it quickly,’ that’s my ego! My ego is that big!” and I applaud him for remaining true to his principles. I have heard his co-workers tear him down spitefully and I have seen him time and time again, turn the praise to others; the directors, his mentors, his co-actors, or the audience. I have read posts by people accusing him of being nothing but a meathead, his success running on nothing but his biceps. The truth is, he has worked very hard and sacrificed a lot for the success he has had. More than all this, he has inspired me; inspired me to better myself, to make my own dreams come true, through his journey to do the same. Who is this man?
This man is Vin Diesel.
Many only know Diesel as an action movie star and, for many years, that was the only way I thought of him. This began to change during a season of boredom. I wanted to find some new movies to watch and, having just seen Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick for the second time, I began to look for other movies he had appeared in. What I found was a career history I knew nothing about. There were the movies I expected, The Fast and the Furious, xXx, and The Pacifier, in which Diesel plays “tough guys.” What I didn’t expect was Multi-Facial, Strays, and Find Me Guilty, in which Diesel plays serious and deep roles. I didn’t expect to find that he had written screenplays and directed and produced films. I didn’t expect to find a fellow Dungeons and Dragons fan. I didn’t expect to find a man willing to turn down millions because “the script just wasn’t right.” I didn’t expect to have a life altering experience by him encouraging me to invest in making my dreams become a reality.
Vin Diesel knows a little something about investing into one’s dreams to make them become a reality. He started acting when he was seven years old in the New York theater scene. In his early twenties, he arrived in Los Angeles, expecting to become a star. After a year of auditions and rejections, he returned to New York, as he has said, with his tail between his legs. He had not secured so much as an agent. Unwilling to let his dreams die, realizing he could no longer rely on others to dictate where his future was going to go, he started writing a short film. Two weeks later, he was shooting and, as he said to Charlie Rose, “That’s where it all started.”
There had been no scripts for Vin Diesel so Vin Diesel had decided to make his own. He saved $3000 and instead of spending it on a flat screen T.V., he took the money and invested it into his career. He wrote, directed, produced, and starred in his short film titled Multi-Facial. The film is about an actor who can’t get hired because he’s too multi-cultural. He’s not “black” enough or “white” enough or “hispanic” enough, just like Vin. Vin and the friends who helped him produce it took it to Cannes Film Festival but were unable to procure buyers for it.
Disappointed but not defeated by this set back, Vin returned to Los Angeles and, again, began saving money. He and a friend worked as telemarketers, selling tools and light bulbs. In the course of a year they saved $47,000. Like before, instead of buying something to “look” cool, like a new car, Vin invested into his career, returned to New York and wrote Strays. Again, he produced, directed and starred in his film. This feature length film was accepted into Sundance Film Festival and, like Mulit-Facial, received rave reviews but no buyers.
Luckily, Diesel’s investment into his career was not without gain. Steven Spielberg saw Multi-Facial, wrote a part for Vin into Saving Private Ryan and introduced him to the Hollywood movie scene. Following Saving Private Ryan, Diesel starred in a low budget but well crafted science fiction film, Pitch Black. The year after that he starred beside Paul Walker in The Fast and the Furious. The next year he starred in xXx. And with those two, Vin Diesel reached the stardom he had aspired to.
It is not this stardom, however, that made Diesel a hero of mine. No, simple stardom is not enough. Many people are movie stars. Many people work hard to achieve their dream of being a famous actor or actress. What caused Vin Diesel to stick out to me is his commitment to the art; the art of story telling, the art of character development, the art of cinematography; a commitment which I share deeply.
Vin is, at heart, an artist. Vin Diesel chooses parts that present a challenge to him as an actor, preferring multidimensional characters and anti heroes to picture perfect heroes who are hard for people to identify with. Regarding his character Xander Cage in xXx, he said, “where as the predecessors [James Bond and the like] represented a country, I think xXx represents the world. He’s kind of this proletarian hero, this rebel hero that’s recruited…Xander…doesn’t want to be a secret agent but he is a guy that’s called to duty and he rises to the occasion.” Vin chooses scripts that tell original but relevant tales. During an interview with Shawn Adler he talked about The Chronicles of Riddick, which he helped develop. Regarding pressure he was feeling to make the film successful, he said, “The second I was able [to make] this epic that didn’t spawn from a book that was in existence for 50 years, that didn’t come from a comic book character, that was completely an original project, I felt like I was satisfied.” He loves the craft so much that he turned down over 25 million dollars when he chose to forgo starring in the sequel to The Fast and the Furious. He turned it down simply because the script was shallow and did not advance the characters or the story line.
Diesel attributes his commitment to the story and his love of the role, largely to his love of Dungeons and Dragons, a fantasy role playing game. He will freely admit to a long history of playing, calling it the training ground for imagination and credits it for much of of his love of story. His ability to create and imagine stories comes largely from his experiences playing this game. Not only does he freely talk about his experiences developing characters or acting as Game Master, he also wrote the introduction for “Thirty Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons.” In it he says, “[W]hat kept us hooked [on the game] was the search for the character that represented our higher self. Playing D&D was…an opportunity to explore our own identities.”
It is this, this love of imagination, this love of storytelling, this love of developing real and relevant characters that made Vin Diesel a hero. He said to Charlie Rose, “There was a point in my life when I realized I could no long rely on everyone else…I could no longer empower the negatives or empower others to dictate where my future was going to be.” To Jay Leno he said:
If there’s any message that I could tell people about making their dreams become a reality, it would be to invest everything you have in it and instead of going off and buying things that you think may raise your profile amongst your peers, go off and spend that money on something that’s going to help you realize your dreams.
When he said that, my heart responded with a cheer. My heart also broke with the knowledge that I had not been taking the responsibility for making my dreams become a reality. I was not reclaiming the control over the direction of my life. I was sitting by, relying on others to make my dreams come true.
A month later, after many talks with my husband and many thoughtful days spent pondering what my dreams really were, I enrolled in college. I was 28 years old and I was no longer going to rely on others to make my dreams come true. I was going to take what I had and invest it all into my dreams. I was not going to sit by and let others dictate where my life was going to go.
Vin Diesel is a man worthy of respect. First and foremost he is a man of integrity, remaining true not only to his art but also to himself. Secondly, he is a hero because he encourages others to look within themselves to see how they could better themselves by taking control of their lives and their dreams. These two things are what caused me to see Vin Diesel through different eyes; to see him as an inspiration to us all and especially to me.